As I sat down for Marisol at the Station Theatre next to a group of friends, I chatted with excitement about the production we were all about to experience. I was familiar with José Rivera’s two act play as I came into the intimate theatre and was looking forward to see how director Jace Jamison would bring this hefty, dark, filmic script to life. (Especially since I had heard there would be live gun fire!)
Let me tell you, I have one word to describe this experience and that word is METAL.
New York City, Winter, 1992. Homeless people are being burned in Van Cortland Park, the moon has disappeared from the sky, and natural food has turned to salt. Marisol Perez was just told that her guardian angel has been called to serve the war in Heaven, and can no longer protect her from the universe that's being broken apart by a senile God. Marisol must now face an angry, dying Earth on her own. Through a nightmare journey in the wasted city at the end of the world, Marisol must fight to protect her friend June, while avoiding June’s violently aggressive brother, Lenny.
While waiting for the show to begin, I examined the scenic design. The chairs and stage were set up in the standard, Station Theatre proscenium with one large block of audience. The overall vibe defined by the set by Jim Jamison and the lighting design of Brian Hagy was dark and dingy -- exactly what you’d expect from an apocalyptic epic.
On the left of the stage, dark red brick walls and a door with several locks represented the walls of Marisol’s apartment in the Bronx. A small four corner bed and tables helped create a homier atmosphere, but the bare bones, miniscule furniture functioned to let audiences know Marisol’s life is all from comfortable and perfect. On stage right, an office space complete with electronics clearly established the time period as 1992. The dark lighting with colored specials was effective in creating the tone. Green light -- which has the effect of making people look sick -- was utilized to its utmost potential.
The middle of the stage featured a raised platform covered in an overwhelming amount of graffiti. I scanned the elevated walkway from left to right as I read the stage, and was physically startled but not surprised to see Laura Alcantara in tight black clothes and white feather wings lurking ominously. Her presence was massive. I was both intimated and intrigued. This strong presence was carried into her topnotch performance as Marisol's Guardian Angel.
Station Theatre newcomer Melody Contreras led the ensemble of actors in the title. Her Marisol had a youthful energy that further added tragedy to her circumstances. Despite the world around her literally burning and falling apart, there was still a optimistic glimmer in her voice. It made it harder to see her experience one blow after another - sometimes physical blows - when all you wanted for her was safety. The entire duration of the show, playwright José Rivera and director Jace Jamison drag the audience along as they pray with Marisol for her comfort, only to see destruction and betrayal overcome the world as she knows it.
Along with Contreras, the medium-sized cast brought vigorous energy to their roles. Dominique Allen portrays a loveable but problematic June. I’ve seen Allen perform a few times around C-U and each time she nails it out of the park. Her portrayal of June struck a heart chord as she dealt with her overwhelming isolating home situation that pushed her away from building close relationships. Though, as the play progresses, Allen’s sugar turns into pure fire.
Ryan Yapp, another new Station Theatre actor, portrayed June’s adult brother Lenny who is actually delusional. Lenny as a character pushes the audience far away from him due to his grotesque nature and appearance, but Yapp’s Lenny drew me in with his fascinating and exaggerated approach. The physical and vocal choices Yapp made were impeccable and I would suggest for local theatre goers to keep the name Ryan Yapp in your minds. I hope to see him on stage in C-U again very soon.
Other commendable shoutouts go to Jess Schlipf who portrayed the ferociously unstable Woman in Fur, and Meagull Gaines who brought excellent energy and incredible comedic timing to the role of Man with Scar Tissue.
Mike Prosise’ sound design added an extra ‘oomph’ to the production. This last half of the season at the Station hasn’t had much sound outside of music, so I found it refreshing to hear some special effects. Honestly, the show would have been a little weird without any sound design. It was necessary, and it was extremely well done.
Along with Prosise’ effective moments of sound was original music by Thomas James Howie and Noah Scott Larson. As I am a frequent collaborator of both of these musical gentlemen, I was aware that their work would be featured. Along with Jace Jamison’s direction, the ending sequence of the play was epic. The ethereal but distinctively powerful musical montage both summarized and highlighted the tone of the play as a whole. It was dismal with an ounce of hope. But most of all, Marisol at the Station Theatre was metal.
The Celebration Company at the Station Theatre
223 N Broadway Ave, Urbana
March 21st to April 6th
All shows at 7:30 p.m. with the exception of a 3 p.m. matinee on March 31st. There will be no performance on April 4th.
Order tickets online here
Production photos by Jesse Folks. Marquee photo by Katie Burke